This column appears in the December 28 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Two dozen reporters are standing around LeBron James, grilling him about
next summer, when Shaquille O'Neal decides to have a little fun. Disrupting
the interview from the back of the throng, the Big Practical Joker offers
LeBron $5 million to "say it right now." When his teammate balks, Shaq ups
the ante to $10 million, alas, to no avail.
Media accounts the next day said Shaq had tried to coax LeBron into
revealing the team he was going to sign with when his contract expires after
the season. Really, though, Shaq was just trying to get LeBron to recite the
Lil Wayne rhyme he'd been reeling off ad nauseam for the past few days.
That early-season reporting gaffe shows assumptions in Cleveland are like
the wind off Lake Erie. They blow strong, and they blow often. Each Shaq
miss or lost game, each locker room sneer or sideways glance on the bench
sparks a new one -- and with it the feeling that this squad is headed for
another May ousting.
Everyone needs to relax.